‘Super Earths’ could be even more habitable than our own planet, study finds

‘Super Earths’ could be even more habitable than our own planet, study finds

“Super-Earths” outside our solar system that are rich in hydrogen or helium may be even more habitable than our own planet, according to a new study.

Researchers say rocky exoplanets with hydrogen and helium-dominated atmospheres have surfaces hot enough to host liquid water.

The presence of liquid water is “supportive of life”, so these planets could provide habitable conditions and exotic habitats for perhaps even 8 billion years.

Researchers say rocky exoplanets - planets outside our solar system - with primordial atmospheres dominated by hydrogen and helium have surfaces hot enough to host liquid water

Researchers say rocky exoplanets – planets outside our solar system – with primordial atmospheres dominated by hydrogen and helium have surfaces hot enough to host liquid water

The new study was conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, and published today in the journal Nature Astronomy.

EXOPLANETS AND SUPER EARTH

An exoplanet is a planet located beyond our solar system. Most orbit other stars, but free-floating exoplanets, called rogue planets, orbit the galactic center and are not tied to any star.

Exoplanets discovered so far include small, rocky Earth-like worlds, gas giants several times larger than Jupiter, and “hot Jupiters” in extremely close orbits around their stars.

Meanwhile, a super earth is an exoplanet with a mass greater than that of our home planet.

Super-Earths can be made of gas, rock, or a combination of the two.

They say these planets “probably bear very little resemblance to our home planet” and can harbor organisms at very high pressures.

“Life on the type of planet described in this work would live under conditions that are significantly different from most life on Earth,” the authors state.

“Surface pressures in our results are in the range of 100 to 1,000 bar, the pressure range of ocean floors and trenches.

“There is no theoretical pressure limit on life, and some of the most extreme examples in Earth’s biosphere thrive at around 500 bar.”

Billions of years ago, the early universe contained only hydrogen and helium, gases readily available in the materials forming planets around young stars, like our sun.

Therefore, all planets have built atmospheres dominated by these two elements, including the Earth.

“When the planet first formed from cosmic gas and dust, it took in an atmosphere composed primarily of hydrogen and helium – a so-called primordial atmosphere,” the author said. Ravit Helled study from the University of Zurich.

During their development, however, the rocky planets, including Earth, lost this primordial atmosphere in favor of heavier elements, such as oxygen and nitrogen.

When our planet first formed from cosmic gas and dust, it gathered an atmosphere composed mainly of hydrogen and helium - a so-called primordial atmosphere.

When our planet first formed from cosmic gas and dust, it gathered an atmosphere composed mainly of hydrogen and helium – a so-called primordial atmosphere.

However, other more massive planets can collect much larger primordial atmospheres, which they can keep indefinitely in some cases.

“Such massive primordial atmospheres can also induce a greenhouse effect, much like Earth’s atmosphere today,” Helled said.

“So we wanted to know if these atmospheres could help create the conditions for liquid water.”

For the study, the team modeled nearly 5,000 exoplanets, some bound to their star and others free-floating, and simulated their development over billions of years.

The researchers took into account not only the properties of the planets’ atmospheres, but also the radiation intensity of their respective stars as well as the planets’ internal heat radiating outwards.

While on Earth this geothermal heat plays only a minor role for surface conditions, it can contribute more significantly on planets with massive primordial atmospheres.

An exoplanet is a planet located beyond our solar system.  Most orbit other stars, but floating exoplanets, called rogue planets, orbit the galactic center and are not attached to any star (file photo)

An exoplanet is a planet located beyond our solar system. Most orbit other stars, but floating exoplanets, called rogue planets, orbit the galactic center and are not attached to any star (file photo)

The results suggest that depending on the mass of the planet and its distance from its star, these planets could maintain a temperate surface environment for up to 8 billion years, provided the atmosphere is thick enough. – between 100 and 1,000 times thicker than that of the Earth.

“What we found was that in many cases the primordial atmospheres were lost due to the intense radiation from stars, especially on planets close to their star,” said Marit Mol Lous, PhD student and author main.

“But in cases where the atmospheres remain, the right conditions for liquid water can occur.”

“In cases where sufficient geothermal heat reaches the surface, radiation from a star like the Sun is not even necessary for the conditions to prevail at the surface for the existence of liquid water.”

“Perhaps most importantly, our results show that these conditions can persist for very long periods of time – up to tens of billions of years.”

The researchers say that instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope, currently in space, and the Extremely Large Telescope, currently in development, should tell more about biomarkers in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

NASA CONFIRMS THERE ARE MORE THAN 5,000 PLANETS BEYOND OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

NASA has confirmed that there are over 5,000 known planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets.

The US space agency has added another 65 exoplanets to NASA’s Exoplanet Online Archive, bringing the total to 5,009, as of April 1, 2022.

This number was 5,005 on March 22, showing that four planets had been added to the total in just 10 days.

As of June 8, there were 5,044 exoplanets, according to the database.

Exoplanets discovered so far include small, rocky Earth-like worlds, gas giants several times larger than Jupiter, and “hot Jupiters” in extremely close orbits around their stars.

The more than 5,000 exoplanets confirmed in our galaxy so far include a variety of types - among them a mysterious variety known as

The more than 5,000 exoplanets confirmed in our galaxy so far include a variety of types – including a mysterious variety known as “super-Earths” because they are larger than our world and possibly rocky

However, NASA points out that only “a tiny fraction” of all the planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone have been discovered.

The majority of exoplanets are gaseous, like Jupiter or Neptune, rather than terrestrial, according to NASA’s online database.

Most exoplanets are found by measuring the dimming of a star in front of which a planet passes, called the transit method.

Another way to detect exoplanets, called the Doppler method, measures the “wobble” of stars due to the gravitational pull of orbiting planets.

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